“Romeo and Juliet” is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and classical tragic plays where two young lovers are destined to be together but their families bitter hatred towards one another force them apart. They soon realize that one cannot live without the other and would rather be dead than live apart; so they end up committing suicide under tragic circumstances. Shakespeare wrote the play in 1959 and it was set in Italy.To understand the extent of tragedy in this play, the social and historical context of the play and other factors that may have contributed to the tragedy of the play, are very important. Most people see tragedy as a sudden unfortunate event, which leaves people sad, upset and possibly grieving. In a Shakespeare play tragedy is brought to the audience very differently.
The definition of tragedy would be a disastrous event or calamity in which destructive circumstances result in the deaths of the main characters in question. The audience in Shakespeare’s play is made to feel fear, pity, emotion and a sense of a waste and loss of life. Shakespeare delivers this play’s tragedy through many factors most of which are brought by fate and inevitability and others from those who took part in the events which lead to the end of Romeo and Juliet. His use of language, themes, imagery, motifs and symbols also have a profound effect on how he builds up the tragic circumstances in the play.
Shakespeare enhanced tragedy in this play by the loss of Romeo and Juliet’s intense and passionate love affair. “O, speak again bright angel, for thou are as glorious to this night being over my head, as a winged messenger of heaven.” (Act 2, Scene 2) These are the words of Romeo as he stands outside of his beloved Juliet’s bedroom. Having fallen in love at first sight, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet set the stage for the greatest love story in history. Romeo and Juliet are attracted to each other; she by Romeo’s words, and he by Juliet’s beauty. It has been said that boys fall in love with their eyes and girls primarily with their ears. This romantic, but tragic story points out in many ways that this idea is realistic and holds true to this day.
Love being the most dominant theme of the play, has a part to play in the intensity of the tragic events. However, Shakespeare preferred to portray love in a different style in contrast to the dainty version of the prettied emotion, as he chose the route of a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves.
The love Romeo and Juliet share is blinding and the nature of it is empowering and almost violent in the sense that both people in question are prepared to overthrow all values, loyalties and emotion, even going further as defying their own names as Juliet famously exclaims in a rush of ecstasy, “Deny thy father and refuse thy name… And I’ll no longer be a Capulet” (Act 2, Scene2). Romeo abandons his friends, Mercutio and Benvelio, at the Capulet feast in order to go and meet Juliet in the garden (Act 1, Scene 5) and when Romeo is banished from Verona he returns for Juliet, showing no regard to the ruler’s decision of saving his life by choosing to exile him from the city instead of instant death (Act 3, Scene 1).
Shakespeare reveals this intensifying power of love by describing it as a form of religion from the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo describes Juliet’s hands as being a “…holy shrine” and she refers to him as “…pilgrim” and there is a repetition of “…saints…holy palmers” used to put forward the image of innocent love blossoming as they question the act of touching being a sin. Shakespeare’s use of these religious terms portray to the audience how important love is in the play for Romeo and Juliet as religion in the Elizabethan era was an important factor of a persons life.
The poetic features used to describe their first encounter like rhyming and repetition of words such as “…pilgrims…saints…holy shrine” create a harmonious and agreeable atmosphere. The rhythm defines the lovers uniting together. Shakespeare also describes love as being magical when he says, “Alike bewitched by the charm of looks” (Chorus). Through the romance of Romeo and Juliet he shows how love cannot be contained and easily understood because of the extent of power it holds, therefore, it resists any single metaphor. Readers are able to understand this when Juliet is unable to reveal the extent of her love for Romeo, “But my true love is grown to such excess…I cannot sum up some of half my wealth” (Act 2, Scene 6).
Love also plays a part in deriving violence as both Romeo and Juliet consider committing suicide; Romeo when he is banished from Verona and he seeks refuge in Friar Lawrence’s cell, he brandishes a knife ready to kill himself because he couldn’t see a life without Juliet (Act 3, Scene 3) and Juliet considers it too when told by her parents that she would have to marry Paris, “If all else fails, myself have power to die” (Act 3, Scene 5). They both even go to the extent of imagining the other dead, Juliet exclaims, “Methinks I see thee… as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (Act 3, Scene 5)
Shakespeare carries this theme throughout the play until it becomes inevitable that a double suicide would take place. The tragic choice is powerful and shows the highest degree of demonstrating the intense love between Romeo and Juliet that can only be preserved through death; their love is so profound that they choose to sacrifice their lives in an attempt to defend it. Shakespeare uses the theme of love to portray to the audience that it can bring as much happiness as it can bring destruction and in the face of the events during the play, it does just that.
Shakespeare’s portrayal of the two families, Capulet’s and Montague’s, were brought to the audience at the very beginning where the hate and envy between the two houses were shown, “Two households, both alike in dignity…from ancient grudge to new mutiny” (Chorus). Shakespeare doesn’t reveal what the source of the quarrel was but it had been going on for years. Audiences may wonder why the Montagues and Capulets can’t move forward and forgive. Blood is spilling in the streets and their children wind up in an awful situation.
What’s the matter with these people? Are they terribly uncaring? The Montagues and the Capulets are venerable families of Verona, and as such they command respect. Even Prince Escalus shows them respect though their longstanding enmity angers him. The lenient sentence of Romeo’s banishment, rather than the punishment of death, demonstrates the Prince’s willingness to cut the families a break. He would not likely extend the same courtesy to a family of lesser stature. But the respect commanded by a noble family does not give very much insight into the nature of these parents and their relationships with their children. Shakespeare leaves those clues in the text.
In only two scenes in the entire play are all four parents present. The first is the street fight involving Benvolio, a Montague, and Tybalt, a Capulet. The elder generation arrives when the battle is already underway. Old Montague and Capulet immediately want to enter the fray, particularly when each sees the other ready to fight. Old Capulet exclaims, “What noise is this? Give me my long sword” (Act 1, Scene 1) and he only asks for his sword when he sees Old Montague “…flourishes his blade” (Act 1, Scene 1). Old Montague is quick to pass on his hatred towards Old Capulet when he calls him a “…villain” (Act 1, Scene 1).
From this opening Act alone Shakespeare clearly defines the theme of increase hatred between the two families due to an “…ancient grudge” (Prologue) of which neither family remember why it had occurred and where it had stemmed from. To put forward to the audience the foolishness of both families Shakespeare uses the symbolism of thumb-biting, which was the act of flicking ones thumbnail from behind his upper teeth. This action had been taken by the servant of the Capulets, Sampson, who wanted to start a brawl with them, yet didn’t want to be accused of doing so due to his timidity. The whole gesture of such an action is used by Shakespeare to represent the sheer stupidity of the families. The link of tragedy of this is that they failed to acknowledge their responsibilities at a time when their children’s feelings and wishes should have been their main concern instead of dwelling on such menial matters.
What is tragic about all these actions and events of the parents’ is that both families actually thought they were trying to help their children by keeping them away from the rival family but they failed to realize just how much of an effect their sour and bitter feud had on Romeo and Juliet. Both parents’ had selfishly used their own desires to destroy the other, completely disregarding the feelings of those who were concerned. This in turn makes the play even more tragically sad because of their lack of understanding and compassion for their children’s feelings.
Due to their ongoing feud neither leaders of the houses tried to make space for peace; they were all too busy in trying to destroy the rival family. This made it impossible for Romeo and Juliet to have an open relationship, which meant they had to go around in secret. The restriction they felt from the fuelling feud made both Romeo and Juliet determined to carry on their affair because for their families their bond would be classed as “completely and utterly wrong”, making them feel stronger and willing to live their lives together in life or death. This added to the tragedy of the play because both Romeo and Juliet were growing up and their relationship was growing stronger and deeper and this is shown by the extent they went to be together and their rash decision to get married proved how desperate they were to be as one.
The Capulet-Montague feud not only affected Romeo and Juliet but it caused the tragic deaths of those who were not part of it. The raging hatred Tybalt felt against the Montague’s reached an all time climax when he challenged Romeo to a fight but Romeo refused on the basis of him now related to Tybalt as he and Juliet had married. Instead he suggests that they stop their bitter rivalry and embrace each other but Tybalt just taunts him.
Mercutio cannot stand and watch Romeo take such abuse and rises to a sword fight against Tybalt which results in his death but before he died his last words were a curse to both the families, “…a plague on both your houses…they have made worms meat of me” (Act 3, Scene 1). His death signifies the true reality of how venomous the feud was between the two families that it was costing other lives. Romeo soon ends the life of Tybalt and gets himself banished from Verona. Having heard of this decision by the Prince, Lady Montague dies from grief, a tragic death that might not have happened if the two families had ended their brawl. Thereafter, Romeo kills Paris after Paris challenges him to a duel and soon Romeo and Juliet take their lives. All these deaths could have been prevented but due to the ongoing dispute there was no chance.
The whole play was in total five days long. The length of time adds to the build up of tragedy in the play. The fact that the play was so short and in that space of time a total six peoples lives had come to an end – Mercutio killed by Tybalt, Tybalt killed by Romeo, Lady Montague by her grief over Romeo’s banishment, Paris by Romeo, Romeo by drinking poison and Juliet by stabbing herself, magnifies the tragedy even more. One death alone could not have made this play a tragedy but six takes the plunge and over the course of only five days. The loss of lives that could have been prevented makes it more pitiful and the endless situations and events that should not have happened and could have been portrayed in a different way, adds frustration and helplessness.
Early in the play, Romeo is painfully aware of the passage of time as he pines for Rosaline: “…sad hours seem long” (Act 1, Scene 1). Mercutio is the first to address the problem of “…wasted time” (Act 1, Scene 1), and after his complaint, a sudden shift occurs and time quickens to rapid movement. Capulet worries that the years are passing too fast, and Juliet realises that her love for Romeo is “…too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden…too like the lightening” (Act 2, Scene 2). Soon time begins to aid in the destruction of the lovers. Capulet rushes ahead the marriage date, insisting Juliet wed Paris a day early, and thus forcing her into swift and, ultimately, fatal action which lead to her death. The fast pace in which the play moved on demonstrates the rash decisions made throughout the play and that is forwarded to the audience by Shakespeare.
Another factor which contributed to the death of Romeo and Juliet was the Capulets. Their outraged and raging behaviour towards Juliet when she refused to marry Paris drew the line for Juliet to seriously think about her position. Old Capulet fails Juliet as he contradicts what he had said in the very beginning about her marriage to Paris. Before he had felt that they should both wait a couple of years so that they could get to know one another, “Let two more summers wither in their pride, Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” (Act 1, Scene 2) and he also felt that Paris should win over Juliet’s heart when he says, “…woo her heart, gentle Paris, get her heart” (Act 1, Scene 2). Nevertheless, Old Capulet changes his mind and moves it forward when before he was determined to wait two summers. His rash and sudden decision of engaging Paris and Juliet meant that Friar Laurence had less time to get the letter to Romeo.
Lady Capulet adds to this tragedy when she and the Nurse inform Juliet that Lord Capulet had engaged her to Paris. Although she was concerned for her daughter’s grief over “Tybalt”, when really she was thinking of Romeo, Lady Capulet is outraged to hear Juliet decline. Likewise, Capulet cannot believe that his faithful daughter would adopt such an attitude. He threatens to disown her if she does not go to the church, “Get thee to church a’Thursday, or never look me in the face” (Act 3, Scene 5) However, Lady Capulet’s rage is stunning. She believes Juliet is better off dead than disobedient. “Ay, sir, but she will none, she give you thanks.
I would the fool were married to her grave” (Act3, Scene 5) Her final words on the matter are a dismissal of her own child and the audience can sense the insensitivity from her towards Juliet: “Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.” (Act 3, Scene 5). Lady Capulet here demonstrates that she has never had to deal with a willful child. Only when Juliet pretends to go along with the marriage to Paris does she win back her mother’s attentions.
Their attitude at the time was very common for wealthy and well known residents of Verona, Italy as parents usually chose who their children would marry and the two people in question had no say in the matter. It was also normal for parents to disown their child if they refused to accept the person they chose for them to marry. Marriage for girls usually began once they hit puberty and soon after they would have children of their own. So Juliet’s marriage affair was not an exception in the Elizabethan time. It was the parents responsibility to make sure that their children married and was known to be their duty.
The behaviour of her parents scared and upset Juliet even more than she already was with the banishment of Romeo but it also made her strong willed that she would only be Romeo’s no matter what she had to do to be with him. This is clearly shown when she thinks about killing herself if Friar Laurence is unable to help her in any way, “I’ll go to Friar, to know his remedy…If all else fail, myself have power to die” (Act 3, Scene 5) The Capulet’s harsh attitude towards their daughter pushed her to actually think about committing suicide. They failed to understand their daughter’s feelings and question her refusal, which made it more harder for Juliet.
Their treatment proved just how much they didn’t understand their daughters feelings and what she wanted. The tragedy of this is that Juliet had become somewhat independent in this scene as she had made a decision to refuse an alliance which she didn’t want to be a part of when before she had accepted her parents’ choice, “It is an honour that I dream not of” (Act 1, Scene 3). Her naivety was evaporating and she was on the brink of becoming self opinioned and independent but through the Capulets’ rage all that was dashed.
The Nurse’s role in the play intensifies the tragedies of the play. She is portrayed as being the nurse of Juliet who was responsible for taking care of her. The Nurse’s sole desire in the play was to make Juliet happy as she had lost her daughter and husband; she loved Juliet as a daughter. Juliet actually seemed much closer to the Nurse than her mother and this can be noted when Lady Catherine wished to speak to Juliet about Paris she says, “This is the matter…Nurse, give me awhile, we must talk in secret…Nurse, come back again” (Act 1, Scene 3). Lady Capulet’s words reflect her complete confidence in the Nurse and she realizes that once she sent out the Nurse that there was nothing to hide from her when Juliet was concerned, that she called her back to the room. Juliet was also very comfortable in the Nurse’s company when she exposes her secret of her love for “…a loathed enemy” (Act 1, Scene 5).
At first the Nurse’s reaction was negative but gradually that changes and soon Romeo is “…an honest gentleman…courteous… kind” (Act 2, Scene 5) as she believes that Juliet will be happy and so assists Juliet in getting her to meet Romeo as much as possible. Even though the Nurse is aware of the looming engagement of Juliet and Paris she does nothing at the beginning to try and separate and stop the growing attachment of Romeo and Juliet, instead acts as messenger because she liked being involved in the relationship. She even goes as far as arranging Romeo to enter Juliet’s bedroom on their wedding night, “To fetch a ladder, by which your love Must climb” (Act 2, Scene 5) and even tells Juliet that she would do everything for their special day; Juliet should just be happy, “I am the drudge and toil in your delight” (Act 2, Scene 5).
However, all that changes when the Capulet’s decided that Juliet should and will marry Paris. The Nurse is quick to agree and tells Juliet that it is “…best you married the County, O, he’s a lovely gentleman!” (Act 3, Scene 5). She also goes onto say how Romeo was “…a dishclout” (Act 3, Scene 5) next to Paris and she was better off without him. She had begun to insult Romeo and taken to thinking Paris would “…excel” (Act 3, Scene 5) her first match. The sense of betrayal for Juliet is tremendous. Suddenly the name of the Nurse, Angelica, seems to contradict her personality because of her trickery. The person whom she felt most close to, a friend who was there for had now turned against her? It was too much to bear as Juliet cried out, “O most wicked fiend!” (Act 3, Scene 5).
The Nurse’s act of deception was a great tragedy for Juliet and Romeo because they had lost a friend who could have helped them when they needed her the most; their escape from Verona forever. The Nurse’s attitude towards Romeo changed because of her belief that a banishment was a bigamy and sin and in the Elizabethan times they stood by that invention. The Nurse was also quick to side Tybalt when she realized that for her, blood was thicker than water. Here the sense of loss and grief is a lot as the audiences see that everything was turning against Romeo and Juliet’s loving alliance; everything was falling apart. At this point of the play it seems that all odds are against them and the audience are rooting for them to overcome the trials and tribulations. Here there is a genuine feeling of the readers feeling sorry for them and this one factor has a great impact in making the play seem so tragic.
Friar Laurence was a key factor in the “…star cross’d lovers” (Chorus) when he bound their relationship into a matrimony. However, nothing that he touches turns out right. Yet, one of his most favourable traits is that he is good intentioned. For example, when he says, “In one respect I’ll thy assistant be; for this alliance may so happy prove, To turn you households to rancour to pure love” (Act 2, Scene 3). This quote identifies Friar Laurence’s sole reasons for marrying Romeo and Juliet. He believes that through this act the feud between the brawling households might come to an end.
However, Friar fails to foresee the many problems that could arise from this alliance as he clearly didn’t understand the immense hatred between the Montague’s and Capulet’s, and the growing, deep love of Romeo and Juliet. The length of hatred and love prove too much as the plan is a lot to ask for in a marriage that was so hasty and very secretive. Although Friar hopes for a brighter future, he also acknowledges the fact that the marriage might turn out to be a terrible disaster with terrible consequences. His recognition of a sad ending brewing is portrayed to the audience when he says, “So smile the heavens upon this holy act, That after hours with sorrow chide us out!” (Act 2, Scene 6).
The Friar also has a good relationship with Romeo and acts as a voice of reason to temper the rising tragedy from unfolding. Soon after Romeo kills Tybalt he rushes to Friar and grieves over his banishment. However, he receives no sympathy from Friar as he is disgusted at the melodramatic emotions Romeo was showing. “Art thou a man? Unseeming woman in a seeming man” (Act 3, Scene 3). These quotes clearly define how foolish he thinks Romeo is being and reprimands him for being “…unmanly” (Act 3, Scene 3) and reminds him of the fact that Juliet was alive and still loved him, Tybalt had wanted to kill him but he had instead killed Tybalt and the law had been lenient in only banishing him. However, the strange advice that Friar gives Romeo is that before he leaves for Mantua, he should visit Juliet for his honeymoon night. For Romeo going to the Capulet house would be a death sentence in the face of the events that had occurred and extremely risky. Friar’s advice leave the audience wondering whose interest he watching out for at this point. Was he looking out for Romeo, Juliet or himself?
Friar Laurence was aware of a very important fact and that was the attraction of Romeo and Juliet and how fast paced their romance was as he says, “These violent delights have violent ends” (Act 2, Scene 6). Friar believed that quick passionate and melodramatic love affairs end in disaster. This may be because the two people in question, Romeo and Juliet, fell in love on the basis of superficial motives, just looks and not mutual understanding. For a relationship to develop there must be a sense of understanding between the two people.
Friar might also be referring to the immense hatred of the Montague’s and the Capulet’s which could evidently drive apart Romeo and Juliet. These words reflect how aware Friar was of the consequences yet, he was foolish enough to believe that somehow everything would be okay. His short sightedness was a mistake that he should have noticed when everything was plain to see that there were going to be drastic consequences. The audience are left to mull over what Friar’s actions might have done to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship in the long run.
Another action which Friar takes puts Romeo and Juliet’s relationship under more jeopardy, was when he encountered Paris and then towards Juliet. Unknowing and rather foolishly Friar encourages Paris to marry Juliet when Paris speaks of his engagement to Juliet. “On Thursday sir? The time is very short” (Act 4, Scene 1) He deceives Paris by not mentioning to him that Juliet was already married; maybe because he didn’t want to reveal the person who had commenced the ceremony. He then further deceives everyone by persuading Juliet to fake her own death. “Take thou this vial, being then in bed, And this distilled liquor drink thou off. When presently through all thy veins shall run, A cold and drowsy humour, for no pulse, Shall keep his native progress, but surcease.” (Act 4, Scene 1).
In this quote Friar Laurence is telling Juliet to take the vial and to drink it when she goes to bed. This fluid, while going through her vein, will make her cold and drowsy and make it appear as if she does not have a pulse. However, her blood will continue moving naturally and will not stop. It might seem that what Friar is doing is very noble because he is risking his own reputation and not to mention life by trying to bring together Romeo and Juliet, his deeds were actually making things worse for them. Couldn’t he as an adult, as a priest, identify the consequences of his doings, that the chance of it working was less than a fraction and so the end result would be an absolute tragedy? To the audience the plan of using the sleeping potion is a drastic and outrageous plan. How sure was he that the plan would work? Did he even know that the potion might cause Juliet difficulty physically?
Examining Friar’s “solution” shows how his messenger, Friar John had failed to get the letter notifying the potion plan to Romeo on time, was a complete and utter disaster. The worse thing was that before he actually found this out he had planned that he would keep Juliet in his cell whilst Romeo returned. How on earth was he sure that he could unbury Juliet on time before she woke up or be sure that she woke up after the grieving families left? His unpredictable behaviour and outrageous plan intensifies the build of tragedy in the play. Upon hearing of the message not received by Romeo, Friar is in a state of despair, “Unhappy fortune!” (Act 5, Scene 3) and exclaims that the events could lead to “…much danger” (Act 5, Scene 3).
Instead of taking this rash decision of making Juliet take the potion, Friar, at this point of the play, should have just there and then confessed the truth to both the families. At least then everyone would have been aware of the fact that Juliet was married; they could’ve tried to resolve the matter with the Prince involved too. Maybe the reason why Friar chose not to was because he knew he was in too deep and it was too late to climb out. Or it could have been that he knew how heavily he was responsible for the events that had occurred and he wasn’t about to put his reputation on the line.
His attitude becomes even less appealing when he goes to awaken Juliet but finds Romeo dead, he flees the scene. His action is cowardice after everything that had happened. “Fear comes upon me, I dare no longer stay” (Act 5, Scene 3). His exit shows how irresponsible he is as he wasn’t even able to face up to the consequences of what his decisions had led to. Through his actions the audience are made to feel that Friar was probably too fond of his reputation and name in society.
What Friar should have done was stay put, comfort Juliet when she woke up, bring order and try to contact the families. The Friar had a lot to be condemned for and a little excused; excused for the part of bringing together Romeo and Juliet in an attempt to end the bitter dispute because his intentions were for a right cause. However, he could have taken more cautious and responsible actions as an adult and priest when guiding Romeo and Juliet instead of deceiving everyone.
Towards the end of the play Friar Lawrence seems like the most to blame due to his actions taken and the audience are also quick to recognize this. It might be possible that Shakespeare had a reason for placing the blame on him as the general attitude towards Catholicism during the reign of Queen Elizabeth was not officially illegal, but any form of practiced Catholicism was. This rule meant that it was against the law to go to Mass, to make a confession, to be married by a priest, and to openly practice the religion.
When looking closely into the historical events it can be known that Catholics were tortured and sometimes executed if they did not submit to the Angelic Church. As well as this, a source adds that some 32 Franciscans, the order to which Friar Lawrence belonged, were starved to death during this era. Even though Shakespeare cleverly avoids an overt anti-Catholic approach, it can clearly be understood that the audience of the play at the time may have readily accepted the implication that Friar Lawrence was to be blamed for the “…star cross’d lovers” (Chorus) deaths.
Shakespeare uses the symbolism of the poison to add to the tragedy of the play. Friar Lawrence describes the plants, herbs and stones to have uses for both good and bad (Act 2, Scene 3). His remark views poison, a natural substance, to be made lethal only by humans because of the way it is used and thus, it is not entirely evil. Through Friar Lawrence’s words Shakespeare portrays to the audience how relevant this is to the play as it proves to be right. When the potion was given to Juliet it was meant to create the appearance of death yet, due to the circumstances Friar Lawrence was unable to control, the potion does evidently bring about fatal disaster when Romeo commits suicide.
This shows how humans can cause untimely deaths without even intending to do so. The potion symbolizes society’s inclination to turn something which is good fatal just like the futile feud between the Capulets and Montagues that makes Romeo and Juliet’s love toxic. The tragedy of this play is different to Shakespeare’s other plays like Macbeth, in the sense that there isn’t an evil villain and the fact that the two main characters die even without a villain, it enhances the tragic events more. In this play Shakespeare shows how peoples good intentions and qualities can turn to poison by the factors of the world.
The inevitability of the theme fate is also an added factor to the tragedy of the play. Shakespeare lets the readers and audience know of this from the beginning when he describes Romeo and Juliet as being “…star cross’d lovers” (Chorus), which means fate has a hold on them. However, Shakespeare doesn’t make this aware to the audience only, he brings this forward to the characters when Romeo believes Juliet to be dead he cries out, “Then I defy you, stars” (Act 5, Scene 3). This indicates that destiny and fate oppose their love and relationship. These weren’t the only events which fate added the tragedy to the play but the message that Friar John was supposed to send to Romeo so that he was aware of what Juliet was going to do, hadn’t reached him because Friar John had been held back in quarantine.
As well as this, at the end of the play when Romeo finds Juliet it had happened that he should not wait until Juliet wakes up before drinking poison. Fate had put them into two complete opposite houses in the first place so therefore their relationship was under jeopardy right from the very beginning. These series of events were not mere coincidences but rather a sign of fate helping the events lead to the inevitable and unavoidable deaths. However, there is a conflicting side to fate. Romeo and Juliet made their own choices through out the play. Romeo went to the Capulet ball despite his premonitions and knowing that Capulet is a bitter enemy. Juliet makes a choice when she discovers that Romeo is her bitter enemy she has the chance to end her relationship but chooses not to. Although they made their decisions they may have been under the influence of “True” love and this could have been a series of unfortunate coincidences. This relates to Shakespeare’s idea of a tragedy where a tragedy was not one major unfortunate event but a series of unfortunate events or coincidences.
As the play progresses, Shakespeare adds many subtle clues that confirm the fact that Romeo and Juliet will die. These foreshadows can be seen when Romeo experiences a dreaded feeling that something terrible would take place, “With this night’s revels… some vile forfeit of untimely death” (Act 1, Scene 4); the warning Frair Lawrence gives to Romeo about rushing into things, “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast” (Act 2, Scene 3); when Mercutio insists that he would be fine after being stabbed, “‘…tis not so deep… ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man” (Act 3, Scene 1) and when Juliet worries that Friar Lawrence’s plan might not work, “What if it be a poison… to have me dead” (Act 4, Scene 3). Shakespeare uses these subtle hints to establish to the audience that fate would seal Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy whatever come what may and the tragedy is that he also adds hope by using the Nurse and Friar Lawrence as Romeo and Juliet’s alliances’.
The Queen Mab speech delivered by Mercutio, (Act 1, Scene 5), plays an important role in symbolizing the contrasting dreams and fantasies of love which Romeo and Juliet feel to be real and genuine. Shakespeare lets the audience know how Queen Mab delivers dreams which show the dreamer what form of addiction they have whether it be greed, lust, violence and so forth. Mercutio description of the fairy seems completely fictional and nonsense and through he Queen Mab imagery he puts forward his view of fantasies and desires are harmful and can easily be broken just like the fairy who is no bigger than an “…agate-stone” and her chariot “… an empty hazel-nut” (Act 1, Scene 5).
The use of blank verses which has a regular rhythm but doesn’t rhyme, creates a vivid and colourful image of the Queen Mab. This helps the audience the audience to visualize the fairy’s power of giving dreams as well as symbolizing her power of awakening fantasies and desires, which Romeo and Juliet have fallen in the trap of by believing it to be true. Through Mercutio, Shakespeare reveals another side to the imagery of Queen Mab in making it aware to the readers just how true his words are after the downfall of Romeo and Juliet. The speech given builds up to the tragic end through the words and phrases used.
To add to the build of tragedy in the play, Shakespeare adds other points of views through characters such as Mercutio, servants, Nurse and musicians. He portrays their views differently and uses Mercutio as a critic who finds Romeo’s commitment to love to be blinding which deprives him from himself and Tybalt’s devotion to honour as stupid. Through his Queen Mab speech with the use of puns, he critically breaks down every form of passion that is present in the play and also openly criticizes the characters splendor and uprightness.
Shakespeare also puts forward the less open views through the servants; the Nurse who has lost her baby and husband, Peter who cannot read, the musicians who are more worried about their lunch and wages and the Apothecary who is not able to make correct choices. The world of those who are noble like Mercutio, is full of majestic tragedies whilst the servants’ world, in contrast, is distinguished by the simple needs, and fear of early deaths brought about by disease and poverty rather than dwelling on luxurious passions. Whilst the nobles’ almost revel in their ability for drama, the servants’ lives are such that they cannot afford tragedy of the epic kind.
Shakespeare uses the contrasting visual motif between light and dark imagery or day and night to reflect upon the deep-felt meaning of their love throughout the play. The contrasting language of this motif shows that light is not always good and dark is not always bad. This is why it is not given a particular metaphoric meaning. During the famous balcony scene Romeo speaks lengthily of the sun and moon and uses Juliet as a metaphor describing her as the sun, “…Juliet is the sun. Arise” (Act 2, Scene 1) which takes away the “…envious moon” (Act 2, Scene 1) and change the night into day. Reference to light and dark is also dressed when Romeo leaves Juliet after spending the night with her. They both feign the light to be dark in order to visualize another night together as Romeo exclaims, “More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!” (Act 3, Scene 5)
One of Shakespeare’s most crucial linguistic features in the play is rhyme. It adds to the tension the audience experiences while watching the play. During scenes where the action of the script brings Romeo and Juliet together, rhyme is absent, and in scenes where actions tear the lovers apart, the dialogue is often filled with rhyme. Since rhyme is distinctly at odds with the action taking place on the stage, audiences naturally feel the tension this clash creates. In fact, because tension is an essential part in the play, Shakespeare uses rhyme to not allow the audience to escape it. From the first scene that uses rhyme to describe the fate of the star-crossed lovers to following scenes that unite the lovers without the use of any rhyme, tension intensifies within audiences to guarantee they never lose sight of the fact that the love between Romeo and Juliet is forever doomed.
All in all, none of these factors in their own sense were responsible for the death of Romeo and Juliet, but they all helped to add tragedy to the play. They all occurred simultaneously like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and when put together the result is tragic. Throughout the play there are a lot of ‘what ifs’; what if Romeo had not gone to the ball?, what if Juliet had stood up to Old Capulet about her wedding to Paris?, What if Friar Laurence had not agreed to marry Juliet and Romeo and then Juliet and Paris? And so forth .Shakespeare makes it very clear to the readers and audience at the very beginning that the love of Romeo and Juliet was destined to be doomed. It is tragic that both these people had to die. There were circumstances throughout the course of their lives that led up to their deaths.
If their parent’s had not been feuding and if the Nurse had not betrayed Juliet, the outcome of this story would have been different, but fate could not be changed. However, I feel that the deaths of Romeo and Juliet are mainly Friar Laurence’s fault due to his impulsive behaviour and the choices he made. His first wrong action was marrying Romeo and Juliet knowing that Juliet was to marry Paris, fuelling the disastrous events in the play. The Friar’s second mistake was giving Juliet the vial and that he did not personally send a letter telling Romeo of their plan as he promised Juliet. But through analyzing the play it can also be understood that factors such as the society they lived in, their fate and their deep passion of love for each other also played a huge role in securing their deaths. In the face of driving out evil and defying their families views Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare remains to be one of history’s most classical tragedy ever to be told.
Courtney from Study Moose
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